Otakon 2016: Dispatches from Geekdom East

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[Header image courtesy Scott Rubin/Flikr.]

While my fellow contributors are living it up at Kansas City Comic Con (before rolling right into Worldcon), nerds and geeks of all stripes have migrated to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for Otakon, the largest anime convention on the East Coast (and one of the largest in the country).

Otakon describes itself as “Convention of Otaku Generation.” The name comes from the Japanese word “otaku”, meaning “avid fan”. In the US, “otaku” refers to fans of Japanese animation and graphic novels — “anime” and “manga”, respectively. True to its name, Otakon’s primary focus is on anime, manga, and Japanese culture. But since its inception in 1999, Otakon has expanded both in attendance and subject matter, attracting tens of thousands of attendees from every corner of Geekdom.

After almost two decades, it’s become a well-established Baltimore institution. For four days out of the year, Otakon takes over the entirety of the Baltimore Convention Center and sends some of its events into a couple of neighboring hotels. The Saturday night Masquerade is so large that it’s held in the nearby Royal Farms Arena. Con goers colonize the Inner Harbor, snapping up every available hotel room, restaurant reservation, and ATM reserve within a reasonable walking distance.

Press badges for your intrepid reporter and her Cameraman of the Silly Name.
Press badges for your intrepid reporter and her Cameraman of the Silly Name.

There’s a wide array of programming on offer from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon. Panels and workshops on topics from “Russia in Anime” to “Spacecraft Navigation” make up the lion’s share. Five video rooms marathon anime series throughout the day. Special events include the Anime Music Video competition, Otaku Talent Show, and the Raves on Friday and Saturday night, where you can dance the night away. Well, until 2:15 am at least. And the Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley offer plenty of ways to spend your cash.

I attended Otakon for several years in a row during my undergrad years, but haven’t been able go since 2011. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to come back this year. I whipped up a pretty awesome cosplay outfit, if I do say so myself (which you’ll be able to see on Instagram!), and kept a close eye on the developing schedule. Still, the reality didn’t quite hit me until I drove up to my hotel on Friday afternoon and saw a pack of cosplayers cross the street, some carrying giant plushies, others carrying foam swords, one guy in a full-body cactus costume. And suddenly, it was like I never left. I know, it sounds pretty sappy. But it’s true.

The nostalgia and excitement continued to grow as I picked up my badge from the (very helpful and exceedingly kind) Otakon staff and did a tour of the convention hall. As in previous years, cosplay outfits abounded. And many of those not in cosplay were wearing awesomely offbeat clothing- kilts, t-shirts with snarky quotes, lots of cat ears…if you’ve ever been to an anime convention, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.

The energy in the air is infectious. Everybody is excited to be here, to spend a few days in a world where everyone is as passionate you are, to spend a few days among a nerdy tribe thousands strong. No matter how obscure your show is, no matter how rare the copies of your favorite manga, there’s someone here who’s just a big as fan as you. Or you’re bound to meet someone who’s excited to learn about that one topic everyone in your “ordinary life” just wants you to stop talking about for five minutes, please.

Take, for example, the “Teen Wolf and Japanese Mythology” panel that I went to. Run by a young woman named Sachan (when she’s on the Internet, at least), the panel offered a brief but thorough rundown of kitsunes, the Japanese fox spirits that feature prominently in the third season of MTV’s hit show. We were treated to readings of the earliest written accounts of kitsunes before Sachan opened the floor for questions, comments, and discussion.

Sachan's Teen Wolf panel getting underway.
Sachan’s Teen Wolf panel getting underway.

Normally, I can only share my Teen Wolf obsession with a couple friends and Tumblr. But here, the room was filled with people who all got the same references and the same inside jokes. They groaned when someone mentioned a particularly bad plot point and clapped for favorite ships.

After the panel, I went outside to thank Sachan and talk to her a bit more. There, I ran into another young woman who asked me if I lived locally. I said that I did. She was very happy to hear it and said that she’d been looking for other local fans to talk to for awhile. And just like that, I’ve got a new friend, one who has also watched that so-bad-it’s-good B-movie about the killer grizzly bear, just because Tyler Hoechlin was in it. (It’s called Grizzly Rage and you should all go watch it right now. It’s okay, I’ll wait.)

That’s what Otakon is about: spending time with friends, making new ones, and nerding the hell out in an environment where nerding out isn’t just accepted, it’s the whole damn point. And I can’t wait to see what the next couple days have in store.

Check out Otakon’s offical website for more info. And be sure to follow SciFi4Me and yours truly on Instagram to keep up with my Otakon adventures.

If you’re interested in kitsunes or some pretty awesome fanart, check out Sachan’s Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram.

[tbfusername= ‘SciFi4Me’] [tbfusername= ‘aisberg1’]

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